A brazen thief who stole wallets from a childcare centre in the middle of the day was chased down the street by a parent.
Staff from Flying Start Childcare felt violated after a young man walked into the centre last Friday and stole wallets out of their handbags in the staffroom, a teacher said.
Rotorua police are investigating the theft and say the incident should act as a warning to businesses to keep valuables out of sight.
Head teacher Leigh Williams said there had been a "five-minute tops" opportunity for the thief to get into the centre so it was obvious he had been watching to see what was going on.
She said the owner had left work at 2.30pm and it was around five minutes after that the thief had been seen walking out by a staff member and a parent who had just arrived. "The parent asked the staff member if she knew him, she said no so the parent went and chased him.
"The thief was on a push bike so the parent got his car and drove around the streets looking for him, but didn't find him."
As soon as she knew what had happened, Ms Williams called 111 and told the police about the theft.
"I just went in to get it sorted and stayed calm.
"Some of the staff were really upset to know their privacy had been violated, it was pretty gut-wrenching just knowing the thief has been watching to take that opportunity at that time, he'd been hanging about."
Ms Williams said when she went to the bank and told them about the incident, she heard stories about other businesses in the area which had also been targeted including a hairdressers, where the fly screen had been pulled down on the back door to gain entry.
"I think it's just a sign of the times, people are just so desperate that they will take risks at any opportunity to get something."
Staff at the centre now locked the staffroom door and kept their valuables in a different location. Ms Williams said they were also looking into getting security cameras.
Inspector Ed van den Broek of the Rotorua police said they were investigating the theft.
He said police are keen to hear from members of public who were in the area at the time and who could help in identifying the thief.
The man is described as being a male Maori, aged in his mid to late 20s, 1.83m and of a thin build with shoulder-length black hair. The thief also had stubble and was wearing light blue jeans, which were dirty at the back, as well as a black baseball cap.
Mr van den Broek said the alleged offender was riding a rusty light blue mountainbike.
"Police consider this theft as an isolated incident.
"However, it is also a timely reminder to all business occupiers to ensure that valuable items such as handbags are kept out of sight from the general public to deter the opportunist-type thief who may be in the area.
"It is also important for businesses to ensure that the back doors to premises are kept locked to again deter thieves," Mr van den Broek said.
Meanwhile, if anyone sees anything suspicious they are encouraged to call 111 and alert police.
"If you are unsure if it is suspicious, then it probably is and the police want to know about it."